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Graphomania comes from the Greek words equivalent to “write” and “insanity.” As Oblivion’s Calliope “Callie” Knowles tells us, the term in pop culture refers to those who fancy themselves writers. Given the age of the Internet blog, everyone is a writer. Many bloggers stake claim to being haunted by graphomania, in that they want to write. They want their thoughts published for the world to read. However, the earliest records of graphomaniacs go back to the 19th century, when blog was more of a sound effect than a word. (That may be a non-sequitur, but you understand what I mean, don’t you?)
Callie refers to her morbid impulse to write as graphing out, which is not a decision. It is not a pastime. It surely isn’t the desire to post her thoughts on a webpage. It is, in Callie’s mind, a debilitating and obsessive urge, necessary for survival.
The clinical version of graphomania oftentimes evokes nonsensical words or phrases involving repetition, and Callie’s experience is no exception. As you’re reading, are you feeling frustrated with the repetition? With the fact that the words often don’t always make sense? That they seem to come out of nowhere? Welcome to deep point of view. When a piece is written in deep POV, readers feel, see, taste, smell, and hear only what the narrator registers. Ergo, I’m sorry you’re confused/frustrated/feeling as if the attacks debilitate the tale. But you’re feeling exactly what I want you to feel, and you’re allying yourself with Calliope in experiencing the action only through her embodiment. Think of it as a spirit using your body as host for the course of several hundred pages. Are you always going to be comfortable? No. But while you feel Callie’s frustration, you’ll also share in her victories. Losing yourself in a character’s human condition can prove a rewarding pay-off, if you allow it. (To those of you who complained incessantly about the graphomania attacks disjointing you, thanks for telling me so…it means I’ve done my job!)
WHY NOT GRAPHOMANIA? (APPROACHING antithesis…)
Were there other ways to illustrate Callie’s repressed memories? More conventional methods through which she might remember what happened the night Hannah disappeared? Absolutely. However, I’m a writer. I use words to solve problems, to vent frustrations, to learn. I’m a big advocate of the power of words. I wanted the solution to Callie’s dilemma to come through constant writing, and in the earlier versions of Oblivion, her graphomania was more akin to a compulsive diarist’s. Diana Dru Botsford (look her up…she’s amazing!) suggested that no one has time enough to journal to the extent of my protagonist. She’s the one who suggested graphomania, and the intensity of the condition fit the nature of the story. So Callie’s desire to keep a diary became a need, and the seeds of an affliction were planted.
Lastly, I first met Calliope Knowles when I was fourteen years old, when she came to me in a dream. When I woke up, the name played on my mind for days. I knew she would someday find her way to the page, and she isn’t the only character of mine to demand a story told on her behalf. In the case of Oblivion, the character was real before her dilemma developed. I researched the name and learned that in Greek mythology, Calliope is the muse of epic Greek poetry. She birthed the bard Orpheus. Furthermore, the goddess Calliope (of mythology) is the daughter of Zeus—the most powerful of gods—and Mnemosyne—the goddess of memory. Add the mythical labyrinth, from which the prince Theseus emerged victorious, and I had an opportunity to explore an obscure allusion. It made sense to capitalize on Calliope’s need to write, and furthermore, for her attacks to come in the form of poetry.
Why graphomania? Well, why not? It’s insanity, as well as a gift. And as Calliope haunted me until I found an appropriate canvas on which to tell her story, the words haunted her. I endured the echo of her name for decades; I figured she could handle the strife of graphomania for a few hundred pages.
She’s laughing in my head right now. She’s plotting her revenge.
Note: because I’m a college composition professor, I’ve illustrated or referenced literary terms within my post. I teach expository writing, but creative nonfiction and novels intersect and overlap when it comes to the craft of writing. Neither one has to be merely an assignment. We’re all graphomaniacs, aren’t we? I urge the population to write!
Oblivion — Sasha Dawn | Goodreads
Lisa McMann's Dead to You meets Kate Ellison's The Butterfly Clues in a psychological thriller full of romance, intrigue, and mystery.
One year ago, Callie was found in an abandoned apartment, scrawling words on the wall: "I KILLED HIM. His blood is on my hands. His heart is in my soul. I KILLED HIM." But she remembers nothing of that night or of the previous thirty-six hours. All she knows is that her father, the reverend at the Church of the Holy Promise, is missing, as is Hannah, a young girl from the parish. Their disappearances have to be connected and Callie knows that her father was not a righteous man.
Since that fateful night, she's been plagued by graphomania -- an unending and debilitating compulsion to write. The words that flow from Callie's mind and through her pen don't seem to make sense -- until now.
As the anniversary of Hannah's vanishing approaches, more words and memories bubble to the surface and a new guy in school might be the key to Callie putting together the puzzle. But digging up the secrets she's buried for so long might be her biggest mistake.
About Sasha Dawn:
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Sasha Dawn teaches college composition to America’s youth at McHenry County College and the College of Lake County. She’s drawn to suspense, the survival instinct in people, and has a crush on Thomas Jefferson. She lives in a suburb of Chicago.
OTHER PRAISE FOR OBLIVION:
“Readers will feel unmoored until the last few pages of Oblivion, and that’s all right; so does the story’s narrator, Callie . . . . The book’s intensity can be overwhelming. Callie’s uncontrollable need to write—and the anxiety she feels when she can’t—is communicated as if by osmosis . . . . questions fade in the face of the incessant demands that the graphomania makes on both the characters and those turning the pages.”
—Booklist starred review
“This gripping mystery excels in the portrayal of teenagers’ conflicted inner lives.”
—Library Media Connection
US/CA readers only, please!